The view from Kabul
By Asma Nemati All eyes were focused on the U.S. early this morning in Kabul, when Obama delivered his long-awaited speech spelling out his new Afghanistan strategy. What are people’s reactions? A bit contradictory and halfhearted, like the strategy itself. Obama is willing to support Afghanistan and defeat terrorists, yet also set a timetable for ...
By Asma Nemati
All eyes were focused on the U.S. early this morning in Kabul, when Obama delivered his long-awaited speech spelling out his new Afghanistan strategy. What are people’s reactions? A bit contradictory and halfhearted, like the strategy itself. Obama is willing to support Afghanistan and defeat terrorists, yet also set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. And, likewise, Afghans feel the same way.
According to many, the influx of 30,000 U.S. troops starting early next year and an additional 5,000 NATO troops is definitely needed to secure some of the volatile parts of Afghanistan, especially the south — Helmand and Kandahar. In fact, there was no major debate in Afghanistan about the number of troops coming, like there was in the U.S., as long as there is some sort of military help in not only training but also increasing the number of the Afghan security forces – who lack proper facilities for training, get paid a meager salary, and at least half of whom are illiterate. Many Afghans are hopeful about this, yet quite pessimistic about Obama’s timetable for the troops’ return to the U.S., which would start in July of 2011, only a year and a half after the start of deployment for the additional troops.
Instead of specifying a definite date for the start of the withdrawal, there’s preference among Afghans I’ve spoken with of the drawdown being conditioned on an ongoing assessment of the situation beyond July 2011 — but not to exceed five to seven years.
Corruption is the second biggest issue the U.S. and the Afghan governments have to address, according to many Afghans, after security. However, the responsibility falls more on Afghans themselves. Afghan citizens should take part in dealing with corruption by holding criminals accountable to the rule of law. To curb corruption, the first step would be to get rid of notorious figures within the government who are connected with criminal activities. And if necessary, U.S. forces should help the Afghan government to pursue the latter.
In regards to dealing with al Qaeda, the home of the problem is the mountainous AfPak border, and it would be a foolish mistake to focus only on Afghanistan or Pakistan alone. However, some Afghans voice concern about U.S. forces working too closely with the ISI, noting that the Pakistani intelligence agency is not completely devoid of those who support terrorists itself, and so the U.S. would inadvertently support terrorism if it continues to work with ISI in the Pakistan border region to get rid of major strongholds of the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Finally, a small number of Afghans are concerned about something quite different: U.S. occupation in Afghanistan. Even when I point out specifics from the speech this morning where Obama blatantly denies such allegations, this group is still skeptical about U.S. military presence here. They cite that The United States’ only interest in Afghanistan is to create military bases out of which attacks can be launched on both Pakistan and Iran.
After all this talk from both Afghan and American leaders, it’s now time to put their money where their mouths are.
Asma Nemati, a researcher from Kabul, is an instructor at the American University of Afghanistan.
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